Now more than ever, it is the time to prevent women from entering prostitution - not make it easier, as some would argue.

by Gemma Kelly, Head of Policy & Public Affairs, CEASE, and Director, Nordic Model Now

In an article for The Independent on 17 December 2022, Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East, and Lydia Caradonna, a brothel worker and sex work advocate asked ‘do we really need more proof that sex work should be decriminalised?’

The answer is yes, actually we do.

In fact, we would need much more evidence before we would ever support the implementation of a policy regime that carries such detrimental effects for women.

The weight of the evidence clearly shows that full decriminalisation of prostitution and the wider commercial sex industry does not keep women safe. Nor does it reduce the numbers of women entering prostitution, and it certainly does not support them to exit the sex trade.

As the article notes, poverty is often a strong prerequisite for entry into prostitution, and economic hardship is long since recognised as a core vulnerability to exploitation. So given the cost of living crisis, drastic increases in energy bills and government cuts to welfare spending, now more than ever is the time to prevent women from entering prostitution, not make it easier as the article suggests.

Prostitution, so often misleadingly referred to as ‘sex work’ i.e. a job like any other, is inherently harmful. This makes it fundamentally different to most other jobs. It has serious long-term effects on the physical, mental and psychological health of prostituted people, the majority of whom are women, whether it is legal or fully decriminalised, occurs indoors or outdoors, online or off.

Physical violence and psychological trauma are regular occurrences. This violence and trauma are predominantly perpetrated by sex buyers, as well as pimps and traffickers. Women and girls are forced to endure unwanted sex, inclusive of violent and dehumanising sex acts at the hands of sex buyers.

Not only does decriminalisation of the sex industry fail to change these inherent harms, it increases the scale of the prostitution market and increases the rate of sex trafficking.

Analysis comparing up to 150 countries found that countries with legalised prostitution have larger international human trafficking inflows. New Zealand which has a population of 4.5 million, and fully decriminalises prostitution, has between 6,000 and 8,000 women in prostitution, which is 5-8 times the estimated figure for Ireland which has a similar population. The other distinct difference being that Ireland implements the Nordic Model.

The Nordic Model decreases the number of men buying sex, reducing the demand, which in turn reduces the number of women entering the industry. As well as removing any criminality from those who sell sex, it also embeds within the law the provision of social services and exit routes to prostituted people. France, which enacted Nordic Model style legislation in 2016, places these provisions, as well as legal rights, on a statutory basis, without discrimination (i.e. migrant women have the same rights as French nationals). France also proactively uses the funds generated from sex-buying fines to support service provision.

The Nordic Model puts equality and the protection of women from a violent industry at the heart of prostitution legislation. 

So really the question should be: ‘Do we really need more proof, that now more than ever, we need the Nordic Model?’

Learn more about the Nordic Model from CEASE and from Nordic Model Now